Cooking From Scratch Without A Catch: Healthy Family Meals On A Budget

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Despite efforts to improve the health of the world’s children, a 2018 study shows that childhood obesity rates are increasing. In Sacramento, where nearly 25% of households have children, busy parents are juggling work with childcare and rising living costs. It can feel impossible to create family meals that are healthy, free from hidden fats, sugars and additives yet still crucially affordable.

Thankfully, there are ways to be thrifty with time and ingredients to create meals that do the job; from using every part of vegetables to cooking in batches on weekends or days off. Plan your week’s menu before you go shopping so that you can ensure variety through the week and get the most use out of your ingredients. Here are some ideas for that shopping list.

Brilliant base

Your first stop should be finding a recipe for a brilliant base. A study from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has shown that canned tomatoes are still nutritious, as well as being cheap and filling. Add in onions, garlic, herbs and any spare vegetables you have to hand. Blend to a thick sauce and then freeze in batches for use as a base in pasta dishes or stews. One advantage of creating a homemade sauce is that you can control the texture; if you’re feeding a fussy eater, make the sauce smoother to disguise those veggies. You can also control salt and sugar levels to suit the age and dietary needs of your family, unlike ready-made sauces which are often high in those flavorings. Pasta dishes and stews are ideal family staples, as they are filling, quick and versatile. You can make them even healthier by using whole grain pasta or rice. While you’ve got the blender out, why not try making some soups? Soups are rich in vitamins and nutrients and they are simple to prepare and easy to freeze. Soups are a great way to nourish your kids on winter nights after soccer practice or to microwave at work for lunch.

Make the most of meat

By being savvy with your meat, you can still include it within your family’s diet without breaking the bank. A slow cooker can be a life saver for a busy household; pop your ingredients in before you leave for work and dinner will be ready when everyone gets home from their various activities. Convenience aside, slow cooking is also a great way to get flavor from cheaper cuts of meat such as braising beef or chicken thighs. Another thrifty option is to cook a whole chicken one day and use the leftovers in pies, pasta dishes or salads over the following days. You can also use meat cleverly for a tasty treat - for example small pieces of chorizo can make a big impact in pasta dishes or stews.

Family fillers

One really good way to stretch your groceries budget is by including lots of legumes such as lentils and chickpeas. Legumes are great sources of protein and fiber and are cheap and easy to buy. A recent study published in the Lancet shows that even if you can’t quite reach your five-a-day, eating legumes with fruit and vegetables can provide a valuable boost to health. Add chickpeas to pad out a stew, or create delicious daal curries with lentils. You could even make up a batch of homemade hummus, which is another handy lunchbox staple for the kids or yourself, served with crunchy vegetables or breadsticks. You can also pad out meals using whatever vegetables you have to hand; canned or frozen are still nutritious and more affordable. Again, curries lend themselves really well to using up whatever you have to hand and can be adapted for every taste bud.

No matter how tight your budget and schedule are, you can still feed your family well. Scratch cooking doesn’t have to be a labor of love; get ahead of the game with a trusty base sauce, use meat cleverly and pad with legumes and vegetables. Plan your week’s menu before you go shopping and spot the gaps in your diary when you’ll be able to cook and freeze. Healthy, affordable food is possible; put it on the menu today.

Submitted by: Jane Lloyd
Freelance Writer